Organic vs. Paid Social Media: Differences and Strategic Tips (2024)

Social Media Marketing
Organic vs. Paid Social Media: Differences and Strategic Tips (2024)
Article by Szabolcs Szecsei
Last Updated: July 09, 2024

“Organic social is dead.” This sentence has become a catchphrase for most marketers, as the social landscape becomes increasingly influenced by ads and marketing. True, organic reach is nowhere near what it used to be, but there are still a few tactics and strategies businesses can use to leverage it.

So, is it "organic vs. paid social media" or "organic and paid social media?" We’ve asked our experts to help you find out.

Organic vs. Paid Social Media: What Are the Differences?

Expert social marketers argue that when it comes to paid vs. organic marketing on social media, their differences can be best described through the benefits they offer and not their definitions.

Let’s explore the benefits of each approach.

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Organic Social Media

Organic social is any post your brand shares with no budget spent on it to increase its reach or conversions. Despite the popular belief that “social is dead,” as of July 2023, the average engagement rate of organic Facebook posts ranged from 2.58% and 1,58%.

Additionally, only 15% of the platform’s feed content comes from recommended, non-followed accounts. This means that while engagement is declining, organic posts are still the lion’s share of the content users see.

Experts agree that brands can still promote themselves organically, especially if they are focusing on genuinely engaging content, and not sales pitches across the board.

Here are a few more benefits that come with organic posting.

Data Box
[Source: Data Box]

Improved Brand Awareness

Having a strong organic presence can help you boost brand awareness. Devising a social strategy that’s based on consistency can make your brand a familiar name for existing and future customers, as familiarity is known to drive future sales.

Better Customer Care Strategy

According to data from Sprout Social, 51% of customers state that the most memorable social brands respond to customer queries. It’s evident that organic isn’t just about post engagement and direct sales. It’s also about managing your community and customers, offering a free and instant channel for followers to connect with your brand.

More Authentic Content and Paid Learning Ground

With a strong organic presence, you can test different ideas and even ask your followers about the type of content they’d like to see. An organic strategy also enables you to gather user-generated content, and, as Megan Killion, MKC Agency's Chief Consultant, tells us, it can serve as a great testing ground for paid campaigns.

“It's not an 'either-or' type of question,” she points out. “Small Businesses should start with organic and build their audience manually so that they can understand who their ideal audience is and what types of content resonates with them.”

“Only once they have a few months of organic analytics should they be putting together a paid strategy, knowing now who they are targeting and what will perform well with them,” Killion concludes.

Bryan Philips, Head of Marketing at In Motion Marketing, brilliantly illustrates this approach with an example: “One of our tech recruitment agency clients discovered what their ICP cared about through comments on their social posts and they leveraged these insights to refine their targeting on LinkedIn, which reduced their cost-per-acquisition to $10 per lead.”

Paid Social Media

Paid advertising on social media refers to sponsored content that targets specific users on a social platform. Running these ads enables you to widen your reach as you don’t get buried under other content, your ads appear more frequently and at the center of your target audience’s feed. What are the benefits of paid ads? Let’s find out.

Better Targeting

Meta’s platforms are really granular when it comes to targeting, allowing brands to reach the most relevant prospects. Using paid advertising allows you to hone in on the people that are most likely to interact with your brand, potentially driving instant conversions.

That said, if you are running promotions or looking for instant visibility, opting for paid advertising can bring immediate results.

On that note, Aditya Roy, Founder and COO of XAXs Corps, urges smaller brands to keep things balanced out. “Small businesses should maintain a balance of educational or entertaining organic posts that build trust and recognition and content that promotes their offerings and generates revenue.”

Bryan Philips also urges for a strategic approach: “Short-term paid social delivers immediate visibility, which is ideal for promotions.”

“Focus on consistent, valuable content for sustainable growth to build a strong organic presence while strategically using targeted ads,” he suggests.

Better Lead Generation

A paid campaign can help you maximize the potential of a great piece of gated content. Case studies, webinars, or prioritized product promotions can be a great way to generate more visits from followers and non-followers alike.

Data Box
[Source: Data Box]

Faster and Larger Audience Reach

Think about organic vs. paid social as a marathon vs. a sprint. A well-targeted campaign can help you boost your fan base or generate immediate conversions, given that you already understand your target audience and what content type they resonate with.

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Paid vs. Organic Marketing: Growing with Organic

Our experts all agree that organic social isn’t dead, but it does require some thought and planning. According to Philips, a lot depends on your audience.

“Social is not dead if your followers are active on a platform and engage with your content,” he says.

“Measure success through engagement as leading indicators and demand gen KPIs as lagging indicators. For B2B, becoming a thought leader in a niche and creating content around it can attract the right people. For example, we had a client who built a strong following by sharing industry insights and trends, leading to high-quality inbound leads without heavy investment in paid social.”

Roy explains that just like TV, social media has built up some “fatigue” after its rise. However, he admits that it's still one of the best platforms to grow your audience on a limited budget.

Lastly, Killion argues that even paid social media’s potential can be wasted, especially without a solid strategy, messaging, audience research, and testing.

Organic social media is still an excellent approach to marketing as it enables you to create a more profound connection with your audience. It can strengthen your paid strategy as it helps you understand the preferences of your followers, maximizing a campaign’s potential.

Not to mention, organic efforts may have a much better return on investment (ROI) too, as they require less funds. Still, how can you leverage organic the most? Below are just a handful of tactics which can help you create result-driving organic strategies.

Opt for Popular Content Formats

Some content types like short-form videos can greatly benefit organic growth. In fact, 66% of Sprout Social’s respondents stated that short videos are the most engaging in-feed content type.

On that note, Megan Killion advises researching popular growth-hack tactics from TikTok: “Take any trending video on TikTok and replicate it — preferably in a somewhat shocking manner,” she suggests. “Or try posting memes and gifs across all social. The biggest hack is getting the owner active on LinkedIn rather than the business. Leveraging high value collateral alongside video works pretty well.”

Don’t Forget Employee Advocacy

Research says that 72% of consumers manage to build a better connection with a brand if the company’s employees share information about it on social.

Employee advocacy can be a great tool for you to build organic momentum. As they post about company news and work culture, they advocate your brand to their entire social community, widening your reach via trusted voices. If you want to get ahead of the game and create shareable content, your staff can be beneficial. Focusing on a positive work environment can help you boost their morale and post about your brand on their own social media channels, making the content more authentic.

Leverage Audience Data and Embrace Trends

Data is the key to understanding your audience’s preferences both in terms of paid and organic posting. Regularly check your statistics, analytics, and reporting tools. See what works well and replicate it.

On the other hand, keep a watchful eye on what’s happening around you. Hopping on industry trends can help boost your organic performance, as long as you do it in a way that aligns with your brand.

Also, utilize other tactics such as social listening to identify trending topics and keywords across your industry and follower base, which can give you ideas for future content calendars, product promotions, and so on.

Build and Nurture Social Communities

Engaging with the social community you’ve cultivated can boost engagement, which is a key component in increasing post reach.

Building a community takes time and effort. From creating engagement-encouraging content to addressing comments, direct messages and general user queries, social community management is a great way to humanize your brand, create a sense of belonging within your community, and boost your organic efforts.

Empower Brand Advocates

Influencer and creator partnerships usually fall under paid social strategies, but that doesn’t mean you should rule out all user-generated content, especially the one you can leverage for free.

User-generated content can be 9.8 times more impactful than influencer marketing when making purchase decisions, while 50% of millennials trust user-generated posts more than original posts created by brands.

Take a look at your social channels to uncover who your most loyal brand advocates are and reach out to them asking whether you can repost their content. Chances are, they’ll say yes without hesitation.

Organic vs. Paid Marketing on Social: Creating a Hybrid Strategy

We’ve talked about how these approaches work independently but now, it’s time to shed more light on how they can work together.

Allocate an Accurate Budget

First, create a budget both for your paid and organic efforts. Second, regularly check your expenses to see whether your investments are making money or not. For instance, you can always pause underperforming ads or reoptimize them with better targeting or a revamped landing page.

Track your organic budget to ensure that you get the most out of your investments, including copywriting, photo sessions, video production, and more. Sticking to a budget can help you get a better idea whether you are wasting money or maximizing the potential of your investments. It allows you to see when it’s time to pivot or change strategies.

Pinpoint Your Most Popular Content Forms

Take a better look at your posts and see which formats perform the best. Good organic posts make great paid advertisements, for instance, in the form of boosted Facebook posts.

The best way to do this is by monitoring your social analytics. Check out some of the most important metrics such as followers and clicks earned to spot your top content. From there, examine your copy, call-to-actions, and imagery to ensure that your boosted post will get the best of what your organic content has to offer.

Not All Promotions are Paid Promotions

Don’t commit the mistake of boosting every organic post that generates above-average engagement. Concentrate on posts that best align with your business and marketing goals and invest in those. For instance, if you are marketing an event and want to boost registrations, you should promote your agenda announcement or ticket calls.

Test and Retarget

Social media testing, such as multivariate or A/B testing, can help you gain more insight about what works best in your case. Effective testing requires a larger audience. Chances are, if your business is tiny, a smaller following with a 2% engagement rate probably won’t make any statistical significance.

Here’s when paid advertising comes in. You can launch a post and the expanded reach will probably give you the required data to refute or confirm a hypothesis. Later, you can use the gathered insights in your organic strategies.

Opt for other paid approaches such as retargeting to maximize the impact of your promoted content. These ads enable you to create custom audiences that target your former site visitors, newsletter subscribers, CRM leads, or former customers. Lookalike audiences, on the other hand, let you target new people who have similar characteristics to your existing followers.

These ad features enable you to capitalize on previous organic visits, boosting your conversions in the long run.

Track Your Data and Measure the Results

Data should be the common denominator that drives both your paid and organic strategy. Social advertising can get pricey and keeping your eye on your social data can greatly help you with your paid campaigns.

Social Sprout
[Source: Social Sprout]

For starters, tracking specific metrics will help you ensure that your paid strategy is complementing your brand-centered organic strategy. This approach allows you to optimize your budget, refine targeting, and improve your messaging with the help of real-time insights. Closely observing your data and making decisions based on it can help both your organic and paid strategies, improving engagement, maximizing ROI, and driving sustainable growth.

Organic vs. Paid Social Media: Two Strategies, One Goal

Rather than treating these two approaches as two excluding strategies, think about them as processes which can potentially complement each other. This way, you can leverage the benefits of both, growing a stronger social presence that helps with your business and branding goals.

Don’t forget what our experts said: organic social is certainly not dead. Without a good organic presence, you can’t maximize your paid efforts, and it’s still the best route to take if you're devoted to creating a brand that resonates with your followers.

Organic vs. Paid Social Media FAQs

Should you prioritize paid ads over organic social?

No. If you don’t have a solid understanding of what your organic following wants to see and hear from your brand, chances are, the same demographics and target audience won’t respond well to your paid efforts either. Paid ads can help you maximize your organic efforts and expand your reach among people who would “click” with your brand even without targeted advertising; it’s just that your ad might get buried in their feed.

Can small businesses grow with an organic-only approach?

With good branding, engaging content, and a comprehensive strategy, small businesses can also achieve growth with an organic social strategy. However, balancing organic and paid tactics is the best way to make the most of a limited budget in terms of growth and ROI.

Is organic social media marketing dead?

Organic social is certainly not dead. Sure, constant algorithm changes and the prevalence of paid promotions can bury organic posts in any feed, but that doesn’t mean that followers and fans aren’t registering and seeing organic content. Additionally, posting is only a segment of organic tactics. Community management, regular engagement, and responding to customer queries can also boost your presence and social standing.

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